Name: Amanda Hampson
Debut novelist at 50
I had always thought that I would be a writer. I grew up in a relatively isolated place in New Zealand. My parents always read. We used to go to the library every Friday. That was a really important part of my life. I had signed up as a cadet journalist at the local newspaper thinking ‘“OK, this is the way you get in”. But that was all – pfft – gone.
It was 1971, but it may as well have been 1951. I was 16 and pregnant. My parents didn’t support me. I had to leave home. I initially lived in one of those hotels, you know, where old men live. Then my parents put me in a home for unmarried mothers. I ran away from that, and I was pretty much on my own.
People talk now about the ‘good old days’, but there were a lot of things about it that were really bad
I had just turned 17 when my son was born. I could go home on the understanding that I went home alone. I had absolutely no choice. There wasn’t a single mother’s pension back then. Girls did not have the choice of keeping their children. I didn’t go back to school. I gave up my son for adoption and didn’t find him for 21 years.
It was a terrible period. People talk now about the “good old days”, but there were a lot of things about it that were really bad.
I worked in all sorts of jobs. I worked in government office jobs. I got married very young – I was only 19 – and we went to live in London. I worked as a car cleaner. I worked in a garment factory. Then we came to Australia and I worked in office jobs again and got into the events industry. I worked in that for years.
I was writing just for myself, and reading.
When I was in my late 40s I realised that writing a novel had become like Everest. And the more wonderful books you read, the more intimidating it is. I thought “I’ve just got to start, because if I don’t do this I’ll be really disappointed in myself”. It was like a green flag moment. I just got on and did it, and ended up doing it for about five years.
You’ve got those little puddles of time you find to write in
I was working and looking after kids while I wrote The Olive Sisters. My children were quite young. My daughter was born when I was 39 and my youngest son was born when I was 42. So I think that’s why it took a fair bit of time.
I’d get up very early. Even now I often get up at 5.30am. You’ve got those little puddles of time you find to write in. My children still joke about how I would say, “OK, I just need an hour without interruption.” And then the door would open very, very quietly, and a whisper: “There’s no milk!”
That book was accepted by Penguin. I was 50. It was amazing.
It’s not like people go “Amanda Hampson! She’s got a book out!” You’ve got to go out to booksellers. Doing all sorts of things to get your book out there.
As much as anything it’s about giving something your best shot. You get better at that as you get older – doing something to the absolute limit of your capability. The Olive Sisters ended up a bestseller.
So many things in life are about getting back in the saddle
You think that if something’s a blazing success it will just be up, up, up. After the first book I separated from my partner and had two children, who were 10 and 13, to look after. The next book came out, and it was not such a big success. In the meantime The Olive Sisters was optioned by an American producer for a movie. I was given the opportunity to write the script, and that went on for years. In the end, the finance just didn’t come through.
So many things in life are about getting back in the saddle. Just over and over again. That’s my experience.
I am prone to making rash and impulsive statements. I had said to my eldest son – we had become great friends – “When you turn 40, I’ll take you anywhere in the world. Just you and I.” As a writer, I had no idea how I was going to finance that, but I thought it was important. Then he rang me one day and said: “New York Marathon.” And I said, “Right. I’m in.” I had never even run for the bus. So I started training. It took a year and a half. It’s like writing. You run one kilometre, then you run two. I had a sore knee the entire time I was training. Then we went off to New York and it was just the most amazing experience. I was 59.
About six months after the marathon my youngest son, who was 17, said: “Mum, let’s go and do the Camino de Santiago.” He got injured after three days and went off to France. I continued walking the 800km alone.
I really love the idea of writing about women of my generation … finding what they want for themselves
When I separated from my children’s father I decided that being a parent was more important than having a relationship. But I really came into my own on that walk. I finally came into being completely comfortable with being single. I think a lot of women of my generation are not. We were under enormous pressure to get married, have kids, have a nice house. But I think for older women being single – it’s pretty fantastic.
I really love the idea of writing about women of my generation, finding independence, and finding what they want for themselves. When I wrote my first novel my protagonist was 50 – it was not that fashionable back then. There’s a lot of books being written now with older characters.
I had a young tradesman here the other day and I was working on the computer. He said to me “What did you used to do?” Well, I literally levitated out of my chair. I said “Listen, buster” – which is not a phrase I’ve ever used before or since – “I didn’t used to do anything! I’m still doing it!”
My sixth novel is out in May. As long as I keep enjoying it, I’ll keep writing. I don’t think I’m going to write 50 books. But maybe a dozen.